The path from youth to adulthood entails learning to care for yourself. This means that you will be the sole party responsible for shopping and preparing your meals. Learning how to shop is just as important as learning how to cook. Cooking is not a chore that people should be reluctant to engage in. The joy of cooking includes finding affordable ingredients to prepare nutritious and good tasting meals that keep you feeling well and healthy all day.
When it comes to shopping - there are basically 3 types of food; meats, produce, and shelf food. Meats are basically the foods with the shortest shelf life - I always bag up my meats into serving sizes and freeze them within a day or two of purchase to preserve them. Fruits and vegetables will ripen and wilt largely dependent on the temperature you store them at. In colder climates they will last about 2 weeks and in warmer climates they last about a week. Rice, pasta, canned goods etc all have much longer shelf lives - in fact foods such as tuna fish can be safely stored for upwards of 2 years.
The only theory behind balanced meals is being conscious of the 5 main food groups and making sure to include each food group in all your meals. The 5 food groups are sugar, fruit/vegetable, dairy, grains and meats.
Sugars are the simplest group for your body to convert into energy. They can be used for a quick burst of energy or as a desert to help signal to your body that you are done eating and to curb your hunger.
Fruits and vegetables provide material with cell walls for your stomach to digest. In addition to the vitamins and minerals, they also help keep your digestive system clean as a roughage material.
Dairy includes foods such as milk, cheese, and yogurt. This group is designed to be a nutritious medium. Indeed many babies subsist solely on milk. As people age some become lactose intolerant, but dairy is the easiest thing to put into your stomach first thing in the morning.
Grains include cereal, rice, potato, bread, and pasta. These foods are high in starch and carbohydrates and digest slowly to provide energy over a longer period of time. This is also helpful if you plan on consuming alcohol as a stomach full of pasta or potatoes will prevent your body from absorbing the alcohol too fast.
Meats (and beans) are your primary sources of protein. Meat is also the slowest food group to digest so you want to avoid consuming too much meat as it stays in your stomach the longest. Meat also has a lot of cholesterol which can lead to health complications.
If you conscientiously strive to include all 5 food groups in every meal you prepare - you will find maintaining a healthy and balanced diet quite simply. I’ve always felt that the best way to teach is by example. I will first outline my dietary patterns and then describe how simple it is to prepare these meal.
This is a basic starter outline of foods that are simple to prepare, cost efficient, and have a decent post preparation shelf life.
The above meals require very little cooking hardware to prepare. I do all of my cooking with electric appliance as it is easier to control the temperature settings. I will list my staple hardware and provide a brief synopsis on what features are important.
Electric griddle with a ceramic top - This is my second electric griddle. My first one was not ceramic and I found that the metal coating wore off very quickly when I washed the grease off it. The ceramic one is definitely better as there is no coating to remove with repeated scrubbings. Additionally, you can clean it with bleach to remove more of the the stains from usage.
The key to cooking with an electric griddle is sticking to food that is thinly sliced and ground. I prepare hash browns daily simply by grating a potato on the griddle before turning it on. Thinly sliced meat and ground meat also cook up easily on the griddle. Heavier foods or foods with a high fat content should not be cooked on the uncovered griddle as the oil and grease will splatter. If you want to cook up a burger on the grill, be sure to cover it with glass lid so the oil doesn't spray.
If you prefer to cook your meat daily the griddle is also helpful as you can cook multiple meats at the same time and then simply reheat it in a microwave when you are ready to serve it. Just make sure the meat isn't thicker than an inch.
Electric Fry pot /Multi-use pot - I prefer the smaller ones as they use less oil and heat up faster. The only real trick to frying with a smaller pot is to make sure that the pot sits inside a baking sheet with a lip that is about an inch high so that when the oil bubbles over it is easy to catch and pour back into the pot. When you aren't frying you can use the same pot to prepare pasta or make soup altho the smaller pots are generally only suitable for 1-2 portions. You can recycle the same oil about 2-3 times but the oil darkens with each use so it’s really up to you to decide when to simply use new oil. You will generally know when to replace the oil when it constantly bubbles but bubbling can also simply be a measure of meat with a high water content
For lighter stuff such as fish I keep the oil at around 250-300 and for heavier stuff such as chicken I put it up to 400. When starting out you just need to be mindful of the fact that hot oil can spray and burn. Place the prepared food in the fry catch and let it sit in the fryer for at least 10-15 min per side. The thicker the food the longer it will take. You can’t really tell just by looking at the outside color if the food is cooked. Until you are comfortable with the individual cook times, cut the meat open to make sure that it is cooked all the way inside. Chicken should run clear and not bloody when you cut it open. I always turn the meat inside the pot once because its not really a good idea to let meat sit in the fry pot unattended for more than 10 min at a time.
Wok - While they said this one isn't available online anymore, maybe you can still find it in stores. The wok is the perfect instrument for stir fry. I cut up a variety of meats and seafood and toss them all in the wok to cook. All the grease from the meat comes out and gets reabsorbed in the cooking process. Also the geometry of the wok makes it easy to toss and cycle through the food and reheat it a comfortable temperature so that it doesn't burn or overcook.
What I do is prepare 3 servings of meat then portion and refrigerate them. Ill combine boneless chicken, pork cutlets, ground beef, and shrimp. Then when I’m ready to serve the final stir fry I’ll add cooked rice and raw vegetables such as leafy greens and carrots and reheat and serve. If you don't add vegetables till the reheating process they end up tasting fresher.
With heavy use I think each appliance has about a 2 year lifespan. You can use them for longer than 2 years but given their low cost ( total cost of all three appliances is about 70 dollars ), it seems easier to just replace them when they get too worn out or too much non-removable grease and grime accumulate.
French Toast is a very simple and quick to prepare breakfast item. The key to making good french toast is utilizing Texas Toast. Texas toast is simply a better sponge to hold the batter with. I prefer to keep my cholesterol low so if I am preparing two pieces of toast I will use one egg and two cups of milk. If you are making french toast for a larger group of people I recommend sticking to this ratio. Beat the egg and milk together till they have congealed into an even mixture. Once you are satisfied with the consistency add a little cinnamon powder for flavoring and color. Then let the toast sit in the mixture and absorb it for about 1-2 min per side of toast. While the toast is sitting in the mixture put a little butter on the griddle and let it heat on a low setting (2-250 degrees). Don't be afraid to apply butter generously as the toast will absorb it when you cook it. Grease the skillet then place the toast on it let it cook for a few minutes then flip the toast and let the other side cook. Once the toast is cooked I simply apply a little honey then serve it while its warm.
Fruit smoothies are a very simple, easy, and fast way to prepare and serve a very nutritious supplement. I try not to blend more than two types of fruit as I prefer simpler tastes but you can combine as many as your palette will allow. The ingredients are just ice, fruit, and milk or juice. A common combination for me are blueberries and bananas. You can mix them with milk or you can try a tropical juice such as mango, pineapple, peach or orange. You can also substitute ice cream for a liquid additive as fruit have enough water inside them to blend down to a liquid. Depending on your tastes you may want to add a spoon of sugar if the blend isn’t sweet enough. The mixture blends a little faster with smaller ice cubes. Just combine all the ingredients in a blender then slowly work the settings from low to high and you will rapidly produce a delicious mixture.
Tuna fish sandwiches are a quick and delicious meal. I find that the more tuna I eat the more I end up craving it in the future. It seems to be like a self reinforcing healthy habit. When I mix up the tuna I combine the tuna straight from the can with some mayo, chopped celery, and soy sauce. You also want to find a nice healthy multigrain bread or even rye bread to fortify this meal.
Home made soup is also an extremely low cost food to make. Sometimes when I purchase chicken quarters they come with the spine part still attached. I cut off the end pieces and save them to make chicken soup broth. Any meat with bones - be it chicken, pork or beef; can be utilized to make soup broth. What I do is take the bones and throw them into a pot half full of boiling water. I let the bone and water boil for about a half hour before I begin to add potatoes, beans and rice. After the pot has cooked for about an hour I add carrots, celery, and corn.
The only real trick is to stagger the items depending on how long they take to cook. If you add vegetables too early they practically melt in the preparation process. Also the more stuff you add the more of the original soup base gets absorbed into the newly added material. Ideally at the end the mixture you are left with can refrigerated then you add water to each serving of soup that you reheat. This saves refrigerator space as only the heavier contents are preserved.
Frying foods such as fish, chicken and pork are very simple if you start with the right type of cut of meat. Due to the amount of time it takes to thoroughly cook I limit my frying to fillet of fish, boneless chicken and thinly cut pork cutlets. The only three things you need to prepare fry are wheat flour, eggs, and bread crumbs. I usually don't prepare more than 10 pieces of fried food at a time. I pour out a bunch of flour into a bowl, mix up about 4-5 eggs, and lay out some breadcrumbs. For flour you want a flat bowl to easily distribute the flour, and for bread crumbs I use a loaf baking pan as it is easiest to bread meats in a narrow container. I don't worry about pouring out too much as I don’t use the ingredients for anything.
The first step is to let all the meats get nice and wet. I usually let them sit in a pot of water for at least 30 min before I start to prepare them for fry. The balance is that you want the meat to be nice and wet for the fry prep but then you don’t want to throw moist meat into the fry pot because the more moisture is in the meat the more the oil bubbles over.
After the meat has soaked in water take it and drop it into a bowl of flour. Don’t be afraid to use your fingers when you are applying the flour coat - in fact its easier to put the meat in the flour then press down firmly on the other side with your fingers to make sure the full surface area of the meat gets the maximum contact with the flour. Once it has been thoroughly covered in flour you want to make sure to handle the meat with tongs.
Take the flour coated meat and drop it into the bowl of beat egg.You want to make sure that the egg gets into all the nooks and crannies of the meat as that is ultimately what the bread crumbs are going to adhere to. Just handle the meat with tongs and flip it back in forth in the egg batter until the meat is covered in egg. The egg will be a bit runny so make sure to hold the dripping meat so the excess runs off.
While still holding the meat with tongs take the egg covered piece and drop it into the breadcrumb pan. Push down firmly on the meat with tongs so that each side is fully coated. Don’t hesitate to flip it over a few times to make sure all the areas are covered. Thats basically it. Usually only the first piece of meat you submerge into the fryer is moist as each piece takes a good 15 min or so to cook so that is usually ample time for the excess moisture to dissipate. So for example once you get to the 4th piece of meat - all the prepped foods been sitting out for over an hour.
Once the meat has been prepped you are ready to move forward with the pot of oil preparation. Make sure to place the fry pot on top of baking dish with an inch or so of depth so that excess oil that bubbles over can easily be recycled and doesn’t spill on your table.
While the meat is cooking in the fry pot be sure to rotate it every 5-10 min as this will help balance out the cooking time. Also make sure that once the meat is done cooking to hang the fry rack inside the pot for a minute or two to let the excess oil drip back into the pot. I take a few sheets of paper towels and lay them down on a baking sheet and when the meat is done cooking in the fry pot I lay them out on the paper towel which helps absorb excess grease.
That’s basically all you need to know about how to prepare fried food. When you are new to frying always cut the meat open to make sure it is thoroughly cooked, but once you have a little experience under your belt you will be more comfortable with cooking time and won’t need to manually check every piece. While fried food will hold in tupperware in the fridge for about a week I generally try to limit the hold time on refrigerated prepared foods to about 3-4 days. Fried food is also very easy to reheat - simply put it in the microwave for 1-2 minutes and it is ready to serve.
Pasta and Pasta Casserole are very easy to prepare and affordable meals. I prefer to differentiate pasta dishes between red and white sauces. I utilize the red (tomato) sauces with meats such as beef and pork and create white sauce dishes with fish, shrimp and clams. When it comes to flavoring with spices I think cilantro makes a great addition to red sauces and I mix in soy sauce and freshly cut garlic for a salty, hungry flavor with seafood. There are all different types of shapes when it comes to pasta - my personal preference is linguini or spaghetti for white sauce meals as the longer noodles are easy to throw stains when you serve them with red sauce.
Elbows tend to work best for meat and cheese pasta casserole as the boiled pasta will absorb and hold all the sauces that emerge from meat sauce when you bake it. Elbows also fill a baking pan much more evenly than the other shapes. I used to make meat lasagnas but I found that the casseroles require less preparation and taste exactly the same.
When I prepare casserole I use one 7 oz package of pasta, 24 oz of pasta sauce, 6 handfuls of mozzarella cheese and half a pound of ground beef. I use a loaf pan to prepare it and it makes 2-3 servings.
To prepare a seafood sauce I boil shrimp and mix in a clam and oil and soy sauce marinate with freshly chopped garlic and leafy green vegetables. Usually I don't prepare more than 2 servings of sauce at once as the unused portion goes bad pretty quickly even if it is refrigerated.
Curry is a much more flavorful rendition of the traditional meat stew. Meat with bone is more than suitable for the preparation of curry as the boiling process automatically separates the bone from the meat with no use of force whatsoever.